Seeking More Traction in Budding EV Market, VW Adds AWD to ID.4
A second motor and free charging create a compelling offering as Volkswagen debuts the most-affordable, all-electric, all-wheel-drive SUV.
Volkswagen is adding all-wheel-drive (AWD) to its all-electric C-class SUV, the ID.4. This should make VW’s swift-selling submission in the world’s most popular vehicle segment even more compelling, particularly when combined with free charging promotions and applicable state and federal tax credits no longer available to other EV makers. These factors place VW’s projected ownership costs below gasoline-powered competitors such as Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V – with the ID.4 feeling a size-larger from an interior-space viewpoint. It also trumps the ownership-cost structures of the ID.4’s nearest competitors, the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y.
VW showed off the new AWD ID.4 on the snaking roads surrounding Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the ID.4 will begin localized production in 2022 at the German automaker’s sprawling and expanding production facility. The ID.4 is presently manufactured in China and Germany (the current source of U.S-bound vehicles), where production first began at VW’s Zwickau facility in August 2020. The ID.4 is Volkswagen’s first all-electric SUV, the brand’s first global EV, and is built upon VW’s MEB (modular electric drive matrix) EV architecture.
AWD, second motor, more power
The ID.4 launched with rear-wheel-drive (RWD), so creating an AWD version meant adding a second motor to the front axle. At the rear is a single-speed AC permanent-magnet synchronous motor located above the axle and in front of the wheel centerline, producing 201 hp (150 kW) and 229 lb-ft (310 Nm). VW claims more than 90% efficiency for the rear motor, partially due to hairpin windings of the square copper wires used in the stator coils, permitting tighter packaging to increase power and cooling efficiency.
When traction requirements demand it, the ID.4 AWD can engage its single-speed front asynchronous electric motor within a few hundredths of a second. The second motor produces 107 hp (80 kW) and 119 lb-ft (161 Nm), with total system output SAE-rated at 295 hp (220 kW) and 339 lb-ft (460 Nm). VW claims a spritely 5.4-second 0-60 mph time which felt easily authentic, and traction management is prescient enough to eliminate nearly any wheel spin, even when launching on loose surfaces. The AWD version also nets a Traction Mode that locks the driveline into all-wheel propulsion at speeds under 12 mph (20 km/h), a potential boon for steep driveways in colder climates.
Same battery, reduced range
The AWD ID.4 uses the same 82 kWh (gross)/77 kWh (net), 1,087 lb (493 kg) lithium-ion battery pack as the RWD version, netting slightly lower EPA range ratings: 249 vs. 260 miles (400 vs. 418 km). The small range hit likely speaks more to the AWD model’s 223 lb (101 kg) curb-weight gain than driveline losses, as the savvy traction management system only engages the front driveline as needed. The battery is comprised of 288 pouch cells in 12 modules, with a fifth of its total weight comprising the pack’s scalable aluminum construction, its interior a framework of extruded and pressure-cast profiles.
The ID.4’s onboard charger is a Level 2 unit with an 11-kW maximum rate, and it’s also equipped with fast-charging capability at a maximum rate of 125 kW. VW claims the ID.4 can go from 5% to 80% charged in about 38 minutes with 125-kW charging. The ID.4’s battery pack uses a liquid-cooled floor plate to help keep the battery in the ideal temperature range of around 77°F (25°C) to benefit power output, fast DC charging and battery service life. The ID.4’s high-voltage-system warranty provides that the battery will still have at least 70% of its original capacity after eight years/100,000 miles.
Included with the purchase of an ID.4 is three years of unlimited charging at VW’s growing Electrify America DC fast charger network. This alone could be a why-buy for many consumers in the market for an EV SUV. VW also is setting up end-of-life scenarios for the battery pack, anticipating it can either be reused in second-life concepts or turned into a source of raw materials through recycling. A pilot recycling plant south of Wolfsburg, Germany is being constructed at VW’s Salzgitter site, where Volkswagen is setting up a battery cell production facility together with the Swedish company Northvolt.
Big on the inside
The steel unibody ID.4 AWD is 4.6 in. (117 mm) shorter than Volkswagen’s Tiguan, at 180.5 in. (4,585 mm), with a 0.9-inch (23-mm) shorter wheelbase (108.9 in./2,762 mm). Despite the smaller footprint, the 99.9 ft2 passenger volume is very similar to the Tiguan (101.1 ft2), as is cargo volume behind the second row (30.3 ft2 vs. 33.0 for the 2-row Tiguan) and with the seats folded (64.2 vs. 65.7 ft2). Where the ID.4 AWD trumps an AWD Tiguan is curb weight at 4,782 lb (2,169 kg), vs. 3,847 lb (1,745 kg). The ID.4 AWD model’s towing capability is in a useful range, rated at 2,700 lb (1,224 kg) for a braked trailer, 1,650 lb (748 kg) for an unbraked conveyance.
“In terms of dimensions, we’re within a few inches of length and width from CR-V and RAV4, the segment leaders. So exterior wise, very similar,” explained Jeffrey Lear, product manager of electric vehicles for Volkswagen of America. “But on the interior with our MEB platform, it’s packaged really nicely. Batteries in the floor. Obviously, no combustion engine. Wheels are pushed out. And the longer wheelbase means more cabin and trunk space.”
With the high-voltage battery located between the axles, VW claims the AWD ID.4’s weight distribution is very close to 50:50 while keeping the center of gravity low. The front suspension is a strut-type with lower control arms, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. A first for Volkswagen, the ID.4’s steering rack is located in front of the wheels’ centerline, which it claims maximizes cornering stability. The rear features a compact multi-link suspension with coil springs and an anti-roll bar. Compared to the RWD version, ride height of the ID.4 AWD has increased 0.6 in. (15 mm), and it uses firmer springs/dampers and thicker anti-roll bars.
In addition to the low-speed Traction Mode, the ID.4 features four driving modes that influence steering weight, throttle response and the electric motors: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Custom. Sport mode ups steering and throttle responsiveness and also leaves the front motor engaged at all times. Custom mode allows owners to blend the attributes of Comfort and Sport. The new vehicle dynamics control system, which debuted last year on the European Mk 8 Golf GTI, has been applied on the ID.4 to help balance performance and battery efficiency.
The tuning works with the electronic stability control (ESC) system to control the brake-based electronic differentials. Using a digital target model to optimize dynamic and steering behavior, it will brake an inside wheel as needed when cornering. The ID.4 certainly has a compliant and market-friendly initial layer of suspension travel, but when hustled in Sport mode on some of the sinuous roads surrounding Chattanooga, the AWD model proved surprisingly eager to connect apexes.
The programming for the ID.4 AWD’s regenerative braking proved transparent until the pace became genuinely enthusiastic, with the 14.1-in. (358-mm) front rotors feeling slightly over tasked as paired with the rear drum brakes claimed to help improve regenerative braking functions. Useful are the two standard regenerative braking modes. The default “D” (Drive) position makes the ID.4 feel like a typical ICE-powered vehicle, letting the EV SUV coast along until the brakes are applied (regen-only until roughly 0.25 g). The “B” (Brake) position permits pseudo one-pedal operation, providing 0.13 g of decel when lifting the throttle, but ultimately requiring two pedals as it will not work to a standstill.
Loaded trims only
With ID.4 models initially sourced from Germany, like its RWD stablemate, the AWD version will be offered in only two very well-equipped trims. The “base” AWD model is replete with niceties such as navigation and heated seats, steering wheel, windshield and mirrors. The higher-level trim adds a larger center-console screen (12- vs. 10-in.), larger wheels and a full-glass roof. An almost de rigueur cellular node and smartphone app permits remote access and connected features to the vehicle.
All models feature gesture control for the console screens, “Hello ID” natural voice prompts for system functions (“Hello ID, I’m cold,” will turn up the heat), and the initially distracting yet clever light strip that runs below the windshield to provide intuitive visual motion cues. Like many current “smart” devices, the neon-bright strip varies its pulses and direction to signal charging state or drive-readiness status, nav system turning prompts, braking alerts, incoming phone calls or to signal it’s listening for a voice prompt.
The ID.4 AWD uses a front radar, front camera, two rear radars and eight ultrasound sensors to provide a full complement of safety and assist features. These include forward collision warning, emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control (ACC) with stop and go, lane keep assist and an Emergency Assist feature that can bring the vehicle to a controlled stop in its lane should the driver become unresponsive, such as in a medical emergency.
The ID.4 AWD also sports an SAE Level 2 partially automated hands-on driving function called Travel Assist. The system can be enabled at speeds up to 95 mph (153 km/h) and uses the ACC and lane keep assist features to steer, accelerate and brake the vehicle in response to traffic, while centering the vehicle within lane markings. The capacitive steering wheel is used to confirm continued driver engagement, and the system performed well even on more winding secondary roads.
With so many financial incentives now stacked in favor of an EV in the market’s hottest segment, VW is likely to find plenty willing to accept the subsidies. “It’s all about value and it’s a whole equation for the ID.4, not just the product itself,” Lear explained. “You’ll notice driving down the road there aren’t any massive blue badges stuck on the side of the car with ‘EV’ written down. It’s meant to be a car that everybody could imagine driving themselves.” Volkswagen is currently taking reservations for the ID.4 AWD via its online tool, and first U.S. deliveries are expected in the fourth quarter of 2021.